NEW YORK—The murder of independent journalist Rasim Aliyez by street vigilantes is a deeply troubling extension of Azerbaijan’s official crackdown on local media workers, said PEN American Center in a statement Monday.

Rasim Aliyev, a freelance journalist in Baku, was severely beaten on August 8 by a group of unknown assailants in broad daylight. He died in the hospital on August 9 from wounds sustained during the attack. Aliyev had previously received threats for his work documenting police brutality and social discontent in Azerbaijan, and in 2013 was reportedly attacked by police. In an interview with Meydan TV shortly before his death, Aliyev linked Saturday’s attack to supporters of a well-known Azeri soccer player whom Aliyev had publicly criticized for crude behavior after a July 30 match.

The attack on Aliyev comes amidst an unprecedented government crackdown on journalists and activists in Azerbaijan. Most independent media organizations have been closed by the government; the Institute for Reporters’ Safety and Freedom, where Aliyev worked and served as Board Chairman, was forcibly shuttered exactly one year before his death. At least 26 writers are currently in jail, including 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Khadija Ismayilova, who has been detained since December on baseless charges in an effort to silence her investigative reporting into government corruption. As journalists flee the country, many are now reporting retaliatory threats and legal proceedings against their family members or colleagues.

“With a slew of arrests, legal prosecutions, and threats over the past year, President Ilham Aliyev has sent a message that journalists are disposable in Azerbaijan,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center. “That message was heard loud and clear by the thugs that enacted brutal vigilante ‘justice’ against innocent freelancer Rasim Aliyev.”

Azerbaijani authorities have launched an investigation into Aliyev’s murder, which is reportedly under the close supervision of the prosecutor general. So far, at least one individual has been detained in relation to the attack. But a history of impunity in the investigation of murders of journalists like Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi, whose 2005 and 2011 murders remain unsolved, is illustrative of a lack of respect for freedom of expression in the country.

“Azerbaijan must make clear that any violence against journalists is unacceptable by conducting a swift, thorough, and legitimate investigation into Rasim’s murder to bring the perpetrators to justice, and by halting its own persecution of reporters throughout the country,” said Karlekar.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. www.pen.org

CONTACT
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs: kdkarlekar@pen.org, +1 (646) 779-4822
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: sedkins@pen.org, +1 (646) 779-4830